Carved Into Memory

Today, I presented a speech at the twelfth annual Boston Area Speech Presentation, in which Japanese students from several Boston area schools present speeches on topics of their choosing. I was the fifteenth of seventeen students to present a speech.


When I was coming up with a topic, one of the options was to talk about my experience studying abroad. I wanted to do so, but had a hard time picking out any one thing to talk about from my time in Japan. It was when I thought about how my study abroad program ended that I finally found my topic. And so, although it is somewhat of a dark subject, I ended up talking about memories of the 11th of March, and of the events of the next few days.


The full text of my speech (and its English translation) follows.


Carved Into Memory


Last year, I participated in a study abroad program called KCJS, spending about a year in Kyoto studying Japanese language and culture. It was truly a wonderful experience, but the first thing I remember of it is not at all wonderful. Rather than the things that I studied, the people that I met, or the places that I visited... what has been carved into my heart are memories of the 11th of March. On that day, east of Sendai, a massive earthquake struck and dealt a great deal of damage to the Touhoku region.


I do not know whether it is natural for me to say that those memories have been carved into my heart, but one thing I know for sure is that I have felt this complex emotion before. For myself, for Americans, there was the time of the September 11th terrorist attacks. That day, I was in the sixth grade. The principal came on over the PA system, saying that someone had flown a plane into the World Trade Center in New York. The one and only thing I can remember of my response was that I had thought that it was some kind of joke.


In the same way, for the Japanese, it is natural to say that the events of that day are carved into their hearts. When you heard that there had been a major earthquake, where were you? What were you doing? These things come immediately to mind. In the same fashion as September 11th is for me, one or two things are clearly remembered. When I was in my program's library, probably about 3 o'clock, one of my friends came running in saying that something had happened. That according to the news, a large earthquake had struck, and that we should check online.


At the time I had no idea what was truly happening, nor had I felt so much as a twitch. According to my host family, they had felt some kind of small vibration. More than that, though, the news from a few days later has been permanently carved into me. It was just a simple video. I don't remember quite where the place was; a town on the Touhoku coastline. The person recording it was almost certainly someone who lived there. They had already evacuated, and he was filming the tsunami from a hill above the village. Repeating over, and over, and over, "the water is coming over the harbor wall"...

どうしてそんなにはっきり覚えているのでしょう? 僕はアメリカ人であって、日本語を勉強していること以外どんな関係があるのでしょうか?そんな強い関係...いや、絆と呼んだほうがいいかな...それがあるのは、当然なのでしょうか?…当然だと思います。僕だけではなく、世界のみんながその一瞬の出来事で日本を応援するために行動しました。再構築のために、人を助けるために... こころの中に一人ではないという気持ちが溢れ出しました。

How is it that I can still remember this so clearly? I am an American, and beyond studying Japanese what connection do I have to Japan? For that connection... or perhaps it would be best to call it a bond... to be this strong, is that to be expected? I believe that it is. It wasn't just me, but the entire world that, in that moment, came to Japan's aid. For the sake of rebuilding, helping the people there... in our hearts, a feeling of "you are not alone" came pouring out.


That such a feeling can overflow like that is one of the greatest things about the human race. That feeling has the power to bring all of the people of the world closer together. And if we carve that feeling into our hearts, so that we never forget it, I truly believe that we can build an even better future.


National Novel Writing Month!

November should be called "Blog Death Month" for me. I mean, in 2009 my first blog had already died for other reasons, so I suppose that shouldn't count. But last year, when I was yapping about studying abroad, November was the death knell to that blog for the entire rest of the year.

The reason is simple: National Novel Writing Month. I've participated twice before, in 2009 and 2010, and plan to do so again this year. Not particularly because I want to be a professional author (as it stands now, I'm certainly not putting in the amount of work that'd require!), just because I like an excuse to be randomly creative. That's probably also why I like roleplaying and the like...

Anyway, among other things, this is your official notification that posts might very well be light starting from Tuesday, November 1st. I want to try and avoid seeing my blog come to a grinding halt this time around, but I know better than to promise that I'll actually be able to do that. If nothing else, I think I'd like to post excerpts from the stuff that I'm writing, pretty much for my own personal amusement.

What do I plan to write about, you ask? Well, inspired in part by what little I've seen of Madoka Magica, in part by my general enjoyment of magical girl anime, and in part by what I understand of the military, I'm going to be trying to create a (reasonably) serious deconstruction of what it would actually mean in our world for magic to exist. Focusing primarily on the Japanese "magical girl" military force in particular, which I'm calling the Magical Self Defense Force. That will also be the title. The idea practically titled itself, to be honest.

Among other things, this means that I'll be trying to depict the military accurately (although as I am an American, it will probably be more based off of the U.S. armed forces than the Japanese SDF, despite the title), hopefully while adding in the "magic" element in a way that makes it legitimately a "magical girl" style story. I've thought several times in preparing for this that I'm trying to write an anime rather than a book, yes.

The other major part of this, and the other challenge I'm hoping to prove myself equal to, is to manage to write a story that doesn't betray the feminist ideals I've been learning about lately. Writing about magical girls and the way they're portrayed would be a whole other post (probably even a whole other series of posts), so for now I'll just say this: I want to be able to write a story that relies on strength of character and plot to appeal to readers, rather than objectification; I want to be able to write a story that can deconstruct and analyze the problems with society, rather than affirm them.

At any rate! That's what I'm thinking about going into this. November's going to be one hell of an interesting month. These days (ever since I started NaNoWriMo), it always is.


Class Warfare, Redux

I shouldn't have to post about this twice in the same month. And yet the current state of my nation seems to demand it. Suffice to say that if we never hear the Republican canard of "class warfare" again, the world would be better off for it.

And there's a simple reason for that. Creating a system of national healthcare to preserve the lives and well-being of everyone in this country would not be class warfare. Ensuring that there is a social safety net to support people that have fallen on hard times would not be class warfare. Raising taxes all the way to 92% on the top tax bracket would still not be class warfare!

If you want to see class warfare? Look to Oakland. Go and watch videos of police firing on a peaceful demonstration. Ask yourself if that's really justified. Ask yourself whether it was necessary for police to use a stun grenade (at the very end of the video, 3:20) on a group of people gathering to help one of their fellow protesters. Ask yourself if it's a good thing that we're practically looking at a war zone on the streets of an American city!

There are a lot of words that should rightly only be applied to the specific action that they describe. Perhaps it is long past time that "warfare" became one of those. Advocating for progressive economic policies is not "class warfare". Taking a group of people gathered to protest growing class inequality and opening fire, even with "non-lethal" weaponry... now that can rightly be called warfare.


The Role of Fansubs

Oh, right, fansubs. I think it's safe to say these days that I have absolutely zero interest in searching them out anymore. I think it's safe to say that they should rightly be on their way out within the next few years.

There are a number of reasons for those statements, but really the core of it has to do with what you think the role of fansubs is supposed to be for anime communities. I tend to consider them a last resort, rather than a first. The first fansubbed anime I ever seriously picked up was Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha StrikerS, because I didn't see any other way of getting access to the series. Heaven knows it didn't have an American release back when I got it. (It still doesn't, as of the time I'm writing this.)

This is because I think that fansubs are rightly supposed to be a patch. There was (and still is in some ways) a gap between the interest in anime in the United States and the availability of anime in the United States. In Japan, new anime comes out every season, airing every week. Whereas the United States got a fraction of those shows, and even then would often see sanitized, altered, or just plain bad versions. Anyone up for Cardcaptors? No? Didn't think so.

In such an environment, it comes as little surprise that people would get together and put up subtitled versions themselves, providing the anime that people in the United States wanted to watch. It's probably not legal, given that that's distributing the anime without the rights to do so, but the company isn't actually losing anything, because if there's no fansub people simply can't watch the anime. And hey, you know, maybe someday we'll get a proper DVD release and can buy that when it comes out, right? (I seriously doubt that most fans actually do buy the anime they've already watched, but maybe I'm wrong.)

These days, that's changing. It's changing for me on a personal level and it's changing for the entire U.S. anime community on a societal level.

For me, well... I'm studying Japanese. I've been to Japan once and want to go back. I went out and bought anime DVDs left and right while I was there. I don't need, nor do I want, a patch anymore: I want to watch the anime on TV as it comes out, and then buy the Japanese DVDs once they're released. Aside from the myriad of special features on those DVDs, there's the added bonus that I don't have to worry about whether what I'm doing is legal or moral. Because it unquestionably is. And if you take Nanoha StrikerS as an example, well, I have all of those DVDs, and still think that every single cent I spent on those was absolutely worth it.

On the societal level? Well, go look at Hulu one of these days. Go back and look at my earlier post about Fate/Zero. There's anime out there already. Some of it brand new from Japan, in the latter case. That patch that fansubs are supposed to provide, filling the gap between what U.S. fans want and what they have? We're seeing companies moving to fill that gap themselves. They're exercising their right to distribute their anime in the fashion that they prefer, even in the U.S. market.

The role of fansubs is to fill a gap in the U.S. market. If this trend persists, if more companies and studios decide to step in themselves, that gap might not exist in the near future. And then we stop talking about role, and start talking about duty: the duty of fansubs and their creators to recognize that without a legitimate role, fansubs simply should not exist.


Passing Judgment

I don't think I've ever mentioned before on here that I do Mock Trial.

There's a story there. Back when I started my university career, I thought I wanted to be a lawyer, and then a judge, and then a Supreme Court justice. Use of the past tense intentional. Perhaps I will still go to law school one day, but not right after graduation. That's not at all unusual these days, or so I am given to understand.

Anyway, the point of this is that I still do Mock Trial despite no longer wanting to go to law school. And in some strange sense, it's still fun. I say "in some strange sense" because honestly, it's a lot of work to handle Mock Trial, even as a witness. Catch me at the wrong moment (especially right after practices!) and you'll find me in a really foul mood.

Part of it has to do with the fact that Mock Trial isn't actually trying to replicate a trial. Well, it is, but it's also a performance. And the people that you find to judge that performance will not only often share a specific set of expectations and biases (they're mostly lawyers, with all that that implies), they'll also each have their own little pet peeves and preferences. One judge will consider a certain performance flawless and give it a 10; the other will spend five minutes after the trial pointing out all of the flaws in it after having given it a 6. And sometimes I feel like there's a little too much focus on those numbers, which is all the worse considering that the idea that this is judged objectively is frankly ridiculous in so many ways.

Why do I still do it, then? Of course it's no fun to sit around for an hour having every little gesture critiqued in different ways. (And even that is an exaggeration, although not by much.) And despite my apparent dislike for it, I'm still here. I'd have to say that it's because just like anything else, when everything comes together and works like it's supposed to... well, it's fun.

Perhaps this is too obvious? Passing judgment on something so quickly, just because practices tend to get onerous sometimes, really doesn't make sense. I'll be at a tournament this weekend. And we'll see what happens there.


An Attack on Occupy Boston

I fail to see what the Boston Police have actually accomplished with their attack on Occupy Boston last night.

I mean, this summarizes the reasons they're giving for having to remove the protesters from their second location. None of them actually make sense. Increased public safety concern? That doesn't seem very likely, given that people standing around don't really seem like they would be that much of a risk to public safety. Potential property damage? Except the property owner, the Greenway Conservancy, had laid out the rules under which the land could be used, making it clear in the process that Occupy Boston had the green light. Breakdown of communication? That only matters if the protesters are obligated to communicate with the police in the first place, which they are not.

It's the unguarded statements, the reading between the lines, that really gets at the reason. Mayor Menino's line, saying that civil disobedience will not be tolerated, is the most obvious of those statements. (And that particular statement deserves all the scorn and derision it gets, too!)

But in the police statement that I linked to above, you see the same kinds of things crop up once or twice. Prior agreement. Previously approved. This attack wasn't about public safety, it was about public control. Much as the authorities might like to, they cannot shut down Occupy Boston entirely without facing vilification in the media. But neither can they simply ignore the protest as it continues to spread. So instead, they make the choice to control it as much as possible. Go stand in this marked-out corner that we're letting you have, and don't try to expand or overstep your boundaries.

And if the goal was public control, then I don't see how this attack was anything other than a failure. Oh, perhaps the police have preserved a kind of temporary physical public control over a small area of the city. But telling them that they can only have as much ground as the police are willing to give them is not going to make the protest go away. It's certainly not going to make the protest stop growing. And it's not going to change the tone or focus of the protest.

The point of that civil disobedience that Boston's mayor has no patience for? Is to stand in defiance of undesirable public control. Congratulations, Boston Police; all you've truly accomplished is to help spread the message.


Class Warfare

Class warfare! Class warfare! You'd think the Republican Party would get tired of yelling about it after a while. The fact that there are people that can still yell about it (as the links show, primarily Cain, but not just him) in the face of the Occupy Wall Street protests and the "we are the 99%" movement just shows how little of an understanding they have. That they can manage to blame Obama in the same breath for screwing up the economy is just icing on the cake.

These growing movements have everything to do with class warfare: the class warfare that created the 1% in the first place. This should not come as a surprise to anyone who's been paying attention. Unless you managed somehow to miss policies such as taxation of capital gains at a lower rate than the rest of income, the focus on cutting primarily progressive income taxes while refusing to consider touching the regressive payroll and sales taxes, or cutting back on regulations that cut into the profits of big business?

But those improve everyone's lives, or so the argument goes. Wealth will trickle down and all that. Screw that. After all, that requires that the people getting this money make that happen. Businesses are raising salaries for upper management, but not line workers. Nor are they hiring and expanding with their money either. And the very rich don't go around handing out money to the 99% on any kind of regular basis.

But they deserve that money, because they worked so hard to get it, or so the argument goes. Sure, whatever you say. I'm not a huge fan of the idea that pushing a few buttons on a computer to allocate so much money to this investment banking account really qualifies as work that deserves millions of dollars worth of payout. And management is a hard job, no doubt about that, but really one that deserves hundreds of times the income of many non-management positions? Even if it does, none of that is an argument for policies that favor the very rich, I hasten to add. If you make $4 million, you deserve to get taxed like it, regardless of whether those are capital gains or not.

And where does Obama enter this discussion? Cain calls this a distraction from his failed policies. Those would be the policies that failed to get off the ground thanks to Republican interference? Or the ones that went through with Republican assistance? Help me out here.

Gingrich so helpfully informs us that this is the natural product of Obama's class warfare. Fair enough. You might even be right. That isn't much of a condemnation, considering that if this is class warfare it's a justified counterattack.

Neither of those seem very strong though... oh here we go, apparently in Gingrich's world, this flies in the face of the American tradition of working hard. Apparently in Cain's world, this is playing the victim card, that we want the rich to lose something so that we can have more. You wouldn't happen to have seen this, would you? Go on, tell me they're not working hard. I dare you.

All I can say is, if we really are the 99%, I don't see how any of these people have ever gotten into political office. Not when they have such a fundamental misunderstanding of what it means to be the 99 percent in this country.



I have to wonder what the modern Republican Party's priorities are. I could be cynical and wonder whether or not the Republicans actually give a damn about economic recovery. I mean, a weak economy going into an election is one of the major pitfalls for a sitting president; if the economy is still stuck in this quagmire come next year, Obama might very well pay for it at the voting booth.

That, of course, puts them in an interesting position. Are they willing to compromise to help fix the economy? Will they take any steps forward here? Hard as this may be to believe, I'd be ready to negotiate if I had someone to negotiate with in good faith. Are you all going to come to the table? Or is the real priority to defeat Obama? No matter what happens to the country? Because that's within the Republican Party's power to do. They can use their position in the House, and their filibuster in the Senate, to prevent Obama from accomplishing anything over the next year or so.

But surely they wouldn't do that, right? Their only concern must be the betterment of the American people. If there was a way to help set the economy back on track, even if it meant working with Obama, they'd take that option, I have no doubt. Right?

Oh wait. Maybe not.

Yeah, let's try that paragraph again in reality. Their only concern is the betterment of rich, white, Christian American people. And if there was a way to help set the economy back on track, they'd pretend not to notice until they'd milked the crap economy for every drop of political capital they could get out of it, then claim victory when they "fix" the problem once Obama is out of office.

All we can do is wait and see. And, if they choose to screw us all over for their own political gain, hope that we can make them regret it come 2012.